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Whalley Cistercian abbey

A Scheduled Monument in Whalley, Lancashire

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Latitude: 53.8201 / 53°49'12"N

Longitude: -2.4103 / 2°24'37"W

OS Eastings: 373084.337119

OS Northings: 436061.475405

OS Grid: SD730360

Mapcode National: GBR CSL8.ZB

Mapcode Global: WH96P.Y7DR

Entry Name: Whalley Cistercian abbey

Scheduled Date: 13 January 1915

Last Amended: 10 August 1994

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1008636

English Heritage Legacy ID: 23691

County: Lancashire

Civil Parish: Whalley

Built-Up Area: Whalley

Traditional County: Lancashire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Lancashire

Church of England Parish: Whalley St Mary and All Saints

Church of England Diocese: Blackburn


Whalley Abbey is located in the valley of the River Calder towards the
south west end of Whalley village. It includes the upstanding and below ground
remains of an abbey founded by the Cistercian order in the late 13th century
and dedicated to St Mary the Virgin. The monument is divided into two separate
The monument is constructed of dressed sandstone. The most visible remains are
the north east gateway, the north wall with round bastions along the roadside,
the upstanding ruins of the east and south ranges of the cloister, the abbot's
lodging, Peter of Chester's Chapel, the north west gateway, and the
foundations of the nave.
The well preserved standing remains demonstrate the usual layout of a
Cistercian abbey but not the standard orientation. Traditionally monastic
buildings were laid out so that the church ran east-west and formed the north
range of a four-sided complex known as the cloister. Domestic buildings such
as the kitchens would then form the south range, buildings such as the
parlour, chapter house and abbot's lodgings would form the east range, and the
lay-brothers' quarters would form the west range. At Whalley however, to
enable the best use of the water supply provided by the River Calder, it was
found necessary to dispense with the usual orientation and align the church on
a NNW-SSE alignment, thus the church formed what amounted to the NNE range.
For convenience the buildings are described as if normally orientated east-
west. The earliest standing remains at the site of Whalley Abbey is the late
13th century chapel built by Peter of Chester, rector of nearby Whalley
church, who died in 1295. The oldest part of the abbey is the north west
gateway on which work began in 1320. Building of the church began ten years
later and was completed in 1380. The cloister, abbot's lodgings and infirmary
were completed by the 1440's.
The south transept of the church, like virtually the whole of the church,
survives only as foundations. It had three chapels at its eastern end. At the
south end were the night stairs to the monks' dormitory and there are also
remains of a doorway to the sacristy or vestry in the south wall. Also within
the south transept are fragments of three tombstones, two of which have
lettering indicating they are the tombs of John Walton, a `monk of this
monastery', and Thomas Wood, one of the priors of the monastery. The north
transept is larger than the south transept and also contains three chapels on
its east side. A further four fragments of inscribed tombstones are located in
the north transept. Separating the two transepts is the crossing, above which
rose the central bell tower. Two of the bases of four large piers which
supported the tower remain. To the west of the crossing are foundations of the
choir stalls. West of the choir is the nave which was 52.5m long with north
and south aisles. The bases of four pillars of the arcades separating the
aisles from the nave remain on each side. A section of the south wall of the
nave survives up to a height of c.3m. A later wall runs across the western end
of the nave; beyond this the nave lies buried partly beneath the present
English Martyrs' Catholic Church and an open area between this present church
and the west range of the abbey's cloister. East of the crossing is the
presbytery which was enclosed by a high screen on all sides except the west.
Surrounding the presbytery is an ambulatory or processional path which would
be used for the procession at high mass on Sundays or on festivals. At the
east end of the presbytery a modern high altar has been reconstructed on the
site of the original. In the north ambulatory are the remains of a tombstone
depicting the coat of arms of the de Lacy family, the founders of the abbey.
The cloister measures approximately 37m by 35m and had walkways on all sides.
The north range is formed by the nave of St Mary's Church. The remainder of
the cloister buildings survive up to 4m high in places. The east range was a
building of two floors. On the ground floor, immediately south of the south
transept, is the sacristry. Beyond this are three doorways; the first is
finely decorated, flanked by two windows, and gives entrance into the
vestibule of the chapter house. The chapter house is located at the rear of
the east range and is an unusual octagonal shape. It contains two areas of
original tiled flooring and was the daily meeting room of the monks. Beyond
the vestibule is a door to the parlour and, beyond again, the entrance to the
slype or passage which led through the east range to the abbot's house and
infirmary. Above this range of buildings would have been the monks' dorter or
dormitory. At the eastern end of the cloister south range is a doorway giving
access to the day stairs which led to the monks' dorter. Next to this is the
doorway to the warming house where a fire would be lit during the winter
months. Adjacent to this doorway is the stone canopy and drain of a washing
trough or lavatory where the monks washed their hands and feet prior to
entering the refectory or dining hall. Only the site of the entrance to the
refectory building remains. Adjoining the refectory is the doorway to the
kitchen and beyond are remains of a narrow staircase leading to the west
range. The west range is the most complete; it was the lay-brothers' dorter.
It still stands to its original full two storeys and is roofed. In the time
of the abbey it had a dormitory on the upper floor and a refectory below. At
the southern end of the cloister east range, across the slype, is the monks'
day room, a long narrow building still containing some of its original windows
and a fireplace. At the south east corner of this building is a passageway
leading to the rere-dorter or the monks' lavatory. Beneath the rere-dorter is
the abbey's main drain. A short distance to the north of the drain are the low
walls of the abbot's lodgings, built by Abbot Paslew in the 16th century. An
entrance door at the west leads into the parlour. This room has a small
projecting room at the south west corner and the base of a spiral stair at the
north east corner which led to the upper storey. A doorway leads from the
parlour into the dining room. There are traces of a stone screen parallel to
the north wall together with traces of two windows, a doorway, and a hearth
with an adjoining window recess. The ruined standing walls overlying the
eastern end of the abbot's lodgings and the site of the abbey's infirmary are
the remains of the long gallery, built in the latter half of the 16th century,
after the dissolution of the abbey, by the Assheton family as part of their
new manor house. Other sections of this manor house remain in use, now used as
a conference centre. South of the long gallery are the upstanding ruins of the
abbot's kitchen, which may also have served as part of the infirmary, together
with the foundations of other rooms associated with the abbot's lodgings.
Nearby are remains of the infirmary chapel which contains three windows, and
the remains of the late 13th century chapel built by Peter of Chester which
contains two small windows in the east wall.
The present entrance to the abbey grounds is through the north east gateway
which was completed in 1480. Centrally placed inside the gateway are the two
passageways for vehicles and foot passengers complete with what are thought to
be the original wooden doors decorated with iron studs. On the west side of
the door, housed in a projecting turret, is a spiral stone staircase which
gives access to an upper room and to the roof. On the north side of the
gatehouse are two single-light windows, two stone shields, and a central niche
which would have originally contained a religious figure but now contains a
17th century carved wooden figure. To the east of the gateway is the porter's
lodge, now functioning as the ticket office, and further to the east, beneath
the single storey range of 17th century buildings associated with the Assheton
mansion, the abbey stables would have been located. To the west of the gateway
there is a roadside wall running initially north then turning west and
continuing as far as the English Martyrs' Church. Along the wall's western
length are two projecting round bastions.
About 130m beyond the western end of this wall is the abbey's north west
gateway, construction of which is thought to have commenced about 1320. It is
built of sandstone rubble and has two storeys, the upper of which is now
roofless. It is a substantial structure measuring approximately 25m long by
11.5m wide. Inside there is stone vaulting throughout, and approximately a
third of the way from the east end are two passageways, one for vehicles and
the other for pedestrians. In the eastern or inside portion of the gateway are
the two side doors, now blocked up; the one on the south probably led to a now
demolished guest house, the one on the north gave access to a staircase
leading to the upper floor and to the lodgings of the vicar of Whalley. There
is another door in the western or outer part of the gatehouse, which would
have been used by local people who wanted to see the vicar. The upper floor of
the gatehouse is a large room with three three-light decorated windows on the
north and south sides and one on the east and west sides. On the north sides
there are traces of the doorway which provided an entrance to the room from
the stairway. The room was probably used as a chapel for the guests.
Whalley Abbey was constructed in response to the pleas for a move from the
monks at the Cistercian abbey of Stanlow in Cheshire, which was suffering from
periodic flooding from the adjacent River Mersey during the latter part of the
13th century. Negotiations to move to Whalley began about 1279 but it was not
until 1296 that Abbot Gregory and a party of about 20 monks arrived to take
possession of the Rectory House, built by the recently deceased Peter of
Chester. Initially work on the abbey construction at Whalley was slow as a
series of legal disputes with nearby Sawley Abbey and then with the Bishop of
Lichfield involved both time and money. A further move, this time to Toxteth
near Liverpool was considered, but papal refusal to grant this move in 1319
eventually saw work begin in earnest on construction of the abbey. Work
commenced on the north west gateway the following year; construction of the
church began ten years later and was completed in 1380; and the full set of
abbey buildings including cloister, abbot's lodgings and infirmary were
finished in the 1440's. In 1480 further construction work saw the completion
of the north west gateway and in the 16th century the abbot's lodging was
reconstructed and a Lady Chapel added by the abbot, John Paslew. The abbey was
dissolved by Henry VIII in 1536, however Paslew became involved in the
Pilgrimage of Grace which broke out in opposition to the king's religious
changes and paid for this with his life, being executed for treason the
following year at Lancaster. After the dissolution the abbey lands and manor
of Whalley were bought by John Braddyll and Richard Assheton in 1553, the
latter obtaining the monastic site and its buildings. Throughout the following
century the Assheton family gradually continued the conversion of the abbey to
a private residence. The abbot's house and infirmary buildings were dismantled
down to the foundations and on the site a large dwelling house which survives
today was built. Further demolition took place about 1660 when the greater
part of the church, the monks' dormitory and the south side of the cloister
were demolished. From the 18th century the abbey passed through the hands of
various families until 1923 when the house and abbey grounds were bought by
the diocese of Manchester. Three years later it was purchased by the new
diocese of Blackburn. The abbey's north west gatehouse, the land on which it
stands but not including the highway, and a strip of land to the north of the
gatehouse, were all taken into the guardianship of the State in 1971.
Limited antiquarian excavations in 1798 and again in 1813 located a number of
skeletons beneath the floor of the presbytery and parts of the gravestone of
William Lindley, a 14th century abbot. In the 1930s limited excavation again
took place when the site, which was partly used as a garden and partly left as
rough ground, was cleared and the foundations of the church were traced and
outlined in stone. A skeleton found below the de Lacy tomb in the north
ambulatory is thought to have been one of the founder's family.
All the buildings on the site, including the remains of the abbey and all its
buildings, the north west gateway, the cloister west range and Assheton's
manor house and its associated buildings, are all Listed Grade I.
A number of features are excluded from the scheduling: these comprise all the
buildings in present day use including the conference house; the porter's
lodge which now functions as a ticket office, the range of 17th century
buildings adjacent to the porter's lodge which now house the abbey's
historical display and gift shop, and the portion of English Martyrs' Church
building overlying the western end of the church nave. This church is a Listed
Building Grade II and known locally as the Abbey Presbytery. The west range of
the cloister, although roofed and in use as a church hall in the past, is
included in the scheduling as it is a substantial medieval building now
abandoned and in disrepair. The surface of the area of the ground lying
between the English Martyrs' Church building and the west range of the
cloister, which overlies the western end of the abbey church nave, is also
excluded as is a greenhouse and building in the garden south of the cloister,
all modern walls and fences, the surface of all access drives and paths, and
the surface of the road way beneath the north west gateway, although the
ground beneath all these features is included.

The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

From the time of St Augustine's mission to re-establish Christianity in AD 597
to the reign of Henry VIII, monasticism formed an important facet of both
religious and secular life in the British Isles. Settlements of religious
communities, including monasteries, were built to house communities of monks,
canons (priests), and sometimes lay-brothers, living a common life of
religious observance under some form of systematic discipline. It is estimated
from documentary evidence that over 700 monasteries were founded in England.
These ranged in size from major communities with several hundred members to
tiny establishments with a handful of brethren. They belonged to a wide
variety of different religious orders, each with its own philosophy. As a
result, they vary considerably in the detail of their appearance and layout,
although all possess the basic elements of church, domestic accommodation for
the community, and work buildings. Monasteries were inextricably woven into
the fabric of medieval society, acting not only as centres of worship,
learning and charity, but also, because of the vast landholdings of some
orders, as centres of immense wealth and political influence. They were
established in all parts of England, some in towns and others in the remotest
of areas. Many monasteries acted as the foci of wide networks including parish
churches, almshouses, hospitals, farming estates and tenant villages. Some 75
of these religious houses belonged to the Cistercian order founded by St
Bernard of Clairvaux in the 12th century. The Cistercians - or "white monks",
on account of their undyed habits - led a harsher life than earlier monastic
orders, believing in the virtue of a life of austerity, prayer and manual
labour. Seeking seclusion, they founded their houses in wild and remote areas
where they undertook major land improvement projects. Their communities were
often very large and included many lay brethren who acted as ploughmen,
dairymen, shepherds, carpenters and masons. The Cistercians' skills as farmers
eventually made the order one of the richest and most influential. They were
especially successful in the rural north of England where they concentrated on
sheep farming. The Cistercians made a major contribution to many facets of
medieval life and all of their monasteries which exhibit significant surviving
archaeological remains are worthy of protection.

Although some of the buildings associated with Whalley Abbey have either been
demolished and partly built over by later structures or remain in present day
use, large areas of the medieval abbey remain unencumbered by modern
development and contain extensive upstanding remains of medieval fabric. These
include the east and south ranges of the cloister, parts of the abbot's
lodgings, the north west gateway, the north east gateway, Peter of Chester's
chapel, and the foundations of the nave. Additionally limited excavation of
the site during the 1930's has shown that buried remains of the abbey survive
well beneath the later structures.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Ashmore, O, A Guide to Whalley Abbey, (1981), 1-20
Dixon, G D, Dixon, J L, The Whalley Earthworks - a field study, (1985), 1-9
Dixon, G D, Dixon, J L, The Whalley Earthworks - a field study, (1985), 3
Farrer, J, Brownbill, W (eds), The Victoria History of the County of Lancashire: Volume II, (1908), 552
DOE, List of Buildings of Historic & Architectural Interest,
Pers Comm to SMR, Dixon, J, Whalley Abbey,
Title: Ordnance Survey sheet SD 73 NW
Source Date:

Source: Historic England

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